Steichen v. Weber, No. 24844.

CourtSupreme Court of South Dakota
Writing for the CourtMeierhenry
Citation760 N.W.2d 381,2009 SD 4
PartiesRobert STEICHEN, Petitioner and Appellant, v. Douglas WEBER, Warden of the South Dakota State Penitentiary, Respondent and Appellee.
Decision Date21 January 2009
Docket NumberNo. 24844.
760 N.W.2d 381
2009 SD 4
Robert STEICHEN, Petitioner and Appellant,
v.
Douglas WEBER, Warden of the South Dakota State Penitentiary, Respondent and Appellee.
No. 24844.
Supreme Court of South Dakota.
Considered on Briefs November 3, 2008.
Decided January 21, 2009.

[760 N.W.2d 385]

Steven R. Binger, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Attorney for petitioner and appellant.

Lawrence E. Long, Attorney General, Craig M. Eichstadt, Assistant Attorney General, Pierre, South Dakota, Attorneys for respondent and appellee.

MEIERHENRY, Justice.


[¶ 1.] Robert Steichen appeals the denial of his petition for habeas corpus relief. Specifically, Steichen argues that the admission of SDCL 19-12-5 (Rule 404(b)) evidence of other acts violated his due process rights; that he had ineffective assistance of counsel at trial; and that his sentences were grossly disproportionate. We affirm.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

[¶ 2.] Steichen was convicted in 1997 of three counts of First-Degree Rape, seven counts of Third-Degree Rape, and one count of Sexual Contact with a Child under the Age of sixteen. The incidents allegedly

760 N.W.2d 386

occurred in Aurora and Jerauld Counties, South Dakota, between July 1996 and February 1997. The counts involved sexual conduct towards H.F., Steichen's six-year old step-daughter and towards K.C., a babysitter. At trial, the children testified to repeated molestations by Steichen. On the three counts of First-Degree Rape, the circuit court imposed consecutive sentences of thirty years, seventy-five years, and life imprisonment without parole. On the other charges, the trial court imposed consecutive sentences of eight years for one count of Third-Degree Rape, and fifteen years for each of the other seven charges, for a total of 113 years, to run concurrent with the First-Degree Rape sentences.

[¶ 3.] Steichen's convictions were affirmed by a majority of this Court in State v. Steichen, 1998 SD 126, 588 N.W.2d 870. Steichen's application for a writ of habeas corpus from the United States District Court for the District of South Dakota in 2000 was denied because he had not exhausted state court remedies. In 2007, Steichen filed a writ of habeas corpus in state circuit court. The circuit court denied Steichen's writ on January 30, 2008. Steichen appeals the following issues:

ISSUES

1) Whether Steichen's right to due process was violated by the admission of other acts evidence.

2) Whether Steichen was denied his right to effective assistance of trial counsel because an alibi witness was not called to testify.

3) Whether Steichen's sentences were unconstitutionally cruel and unusual.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶ 4.] We consider habeas corpus proceedings under a limited standard of review. Erickson v. Weber, 2008 SD 30, ¶ 17, 748 N.W.2d 739, 744 (citations omitted). Habeas corpus review does not substitute for direct review. Id.

Habeas corpus can be used only to review (1) whether the court has jurisdiction of the crime and the person of the defendant; (2) whether the sentence was authorized by law; and (3) in certain cases whether an incarcerated defendant has been deprived of basic constitutional rights. Habeas corpus is not a remedy to correct irregular procedures, rather, habeas corpus reaches only jurisdictional error. For purposes of habeas corpus, constitutional violations in a criminal case deprive the trial court of jurisdiction. Further, we may not upset the habeas court's findings unless they are clearly erroneous.

Id. (citing Bradley v. Weber, 1999 SD 68, ¶ 12, 595 N.W.2d 615, 619 (quoting Flute v. Class, 1997 SD 10, ¶ 8, 559 N.W.2d 554, 556)) (other citations omitted). The initial burden is on the applicant to demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that relief is required. Id. (citing New v. Weber, 1999 SD 125, ¶ 5, 600 N.W.2d 568, 572 (citing Lien v. Class, 1998 SD 7, ¶ 11, 574 N.W.2d at 607)).

ANALYSIS

1. Whether Steichen's right to due process was violated by the admission of other acts evidence.

[¶ 5.] As part of its case-in-chief, the State presented the testimony of the two children who were named victims of the charged offenses. Additionally, the State offered testimony of four other children who claimed Steichen had sexually molested them. The State also presented limited testimony of incidents of Steichen's violence towards his wife and other family members. The testimony of the other children and the references to Steichen's

760 N.W.2d 387

violence were allowed under SDCL 19-12-5 (Rule 404(b)) as other acts evidence. SDCL 19-12-5 (Rule 404(b)) restricts the use of other acts evidence as follows:

Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show that he acted in conformity therewith. It may, however, be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident.

SDCL 19-12-5. The trial court determined that the other acts evidence was admissible to show motive, common scheme and plan, opportunity, lack of mistake or accident, and continuing course of criminal conduct. The trial court further determined that the other acts evidence was more probative than prejudicial.

[¶ 6.] On appeal, a majority of this Court found no error in admitting the other acts evidence under SDCL 19-12-5 (Rule 404(b)) "to show motive, common plan or scheme, opportunity and a continuing course of criminal conduct." Steichen, 1998 SD 126, ¶¶ 16-34, 588 N.W.2d at 874-78. This Court determined, however, that it was error for the trial court to admit the evidence to show lack of mistake or accident. Even so, the error was determined harmless "because Steichen's case was not prejudiced by the circuit court's decision." Id. ¶ 26, 588 N.W.2d at 876 (citation omitted).

[¶ 7.] Steichen now seeks habeas corpus relief, claiming that the admission of the other acts evidence deprived him of a fair trial and violated his due process rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. See U.S. Const. amend. V; U.S. Const. amend. XIV. With such a challenge, Steichen has the burden of "establish[ing] an error which demonstrates a violation of due process. This burden is much greater than that required on direct appeal and is even greater than the showing of plain error on direct appeal." See Loop v. Class, 1996 SD 107, ¶ 23, 554 N.W.2d 189, 193 (citations omitted). On habeas review:

The inquiry is not `whether the circuit court erred in admitting the particular testimony,' but `whether the admissions resulted in a trial so fundamentally unfair as to deny [Steichen] due process of law. In making this determination we must review the totality of the facts in the case and analyze the fairness of the particular trial under consideration.'

Id. (quoting Rainer v. Dep't of Corrections, 914 F.2d 1067, 1072 (8th Cir.1990) (citations omitted), cert. denied, 498 U.S. 1099, 111 S.Ct. 993, 112 L.Ed.2d 1077 (1991)). Our review of a constitutional question is de novo. Moeller v. Weber, 2004 SD 110, ¶ 42 n. 3, 689 N.W.2d 1, 15 n. 3 (citing State v. Dillon, 2001 SD 97, ¶ 12, 632 N.W.2d 37, 43).

[¶ 8.] As the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals noted in Nebinger v. Ault, "[r]ulings on the admission or exclusion of evidence in state trials rarely rise to the level of a federal constitutional violation." 208 F.3d 695, 697 (8th Cir.2000). "Only `when an evidentiary ruling is so egregious that it results in a denial of fundamental fairness,' may it violate due process and warrant habeas relief." Harris v. Wolfenbarger, 2007 WL 2421545, * 12 (E.D.Mich.) (quoting Bugh v. Mitchell, 329 F.3d 496, 512 (6th Cir.2003)). Consequently for habeas relief, Steichen must show under the totality of the circumstances, error "`so "gross" . . . "conspicuously prejudicial" . . . or otherwise of such magnitude that it fatally infected the trial and failed to afford [Steichen] the fundamental fairness which is the essence of due process.'" See Loop, 1996 SD 107, ¶ 23,

760 N.W.2d 388

554 N.W.2d at 193 (quoting Rainer, 914 F.2d at 1072 (citations omitted), cert. denied, 498 U.S. 1099, 111 S.Ct. 993, 112 L.Ed.2d 1077). The habeas applicant must show that "there is a reasonable probability that the error complained of affected the outcome of the trial i.e., that absent the alleged impropriety, the verdict probably would have been different." Harris v. Bowersox, 184 F.3d 744, 752 (8th Cir.1999) (quoting Carter v. Armontrout, 929 F.2d 1294, 1296 (8th Cir.1991)); see Rodriguez v. Weber, 2000 SD 128, ¶ 1, 617 N.W.2d 132, 136 (concluding "that there is no reasonable probability that the outcome of the trial would have been different had the errors not occurred").

[¶ 9.] We already determined on appeal that most of the other acts evidence did not adversely prejudice Steichen. Steichen's renewed challenge to the other acts evidence also fails to warrant relief. A review of the entire trial record shows that the other acts evidence admitted in Steichen's trial was not of "such magnitude that it fatally infected the trial" or its outcome. See Loop, 1996 SD 107, ¶ 23, 554 N.W.2d at 193 (citations omitted). The State presented sufficient evidence to convict Steichen. Both victims testified that Steichen abused them sexually. K.C., the sixteen-year-old babysitter, testified in detail regarding Steichens repeated sexual abuse. H.F., Steichen's seven-year-old step-daughter was not as detailed in her testimony because of her age. Other witnesses, however, corroborated H.F.'s allegation of sexual abuse. The doctor who examined H.F. testified that H.F.'s injuries were consistent with a child who had been sexually abused. In addition, the social worker and psychotherapist who met with H.F. testified that H.F.'s behavior was consistent with a child who had been sexually abused. The evidence concerning Steichen's violence to family members was only referenced in the context that...

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19 practice notes
  • State v. Madsen, No. 24654.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • January 21, 2009
    ...for criminal trespass.5 Id. at 1174-75. That court declined to adopt Becerra-Garcia's argument that a bright-line rule should be 760 N.W.2d 381 adopted for determining reasonableness: "that a stop is automatically unreasonable if the officers lacked authority to conduct the seizure.&qu......
  • Piper v. Weber, No. 24868.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • July 29, 2009
    ...1723 n. 21, 114 L.Ed.2d 173 (1991)). [¶ 7.] Habeas corpus proceedings are reviewed under a narrow standard of review. Steichen v. Weber, 2009 SD 4, ¶ 4, 760 N.W.2d 381, 386 (citing Erickson v. Weber, 2008 SD 30, ¶ 17, 748 N.W.2d 739, Habeas corpus can be used only to review (1) whether the ......
  • McDonough v. Weber, No. 26914.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • January 21, 2015
    ...Id. at 687, 104 S.Ct. at 2064; State v. Thomas, 2011 S.D. 15, ¶ 21, 796 N.W.2d 706, 713 (citing Steichen v. Weber, 2009 S.D. 4, ¶ 24, 760 N.W.2d 381, 392). We employ the same standard. Luna v. Solem, 411 N.W.2d 656, 658 (S.D.1987). [¶ 22.] In order to succeed on a claim of ineffective assis......
  • Piper v. Young, #28153
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • December 11, 2019
    ...of the alleged error ...." State v. Thomas , 2011 S.D. 15, ¶ 21, 796 N.W.2d 706, 713 (quoting Steichen v. Weber , 2009 S.D. 4, ¶ 25, 760 N.W.2d 381, 393 ). Whether the letter actually violated policy is still unsettled, despite the fact that Sister Crowley acknowledged she had violated......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
19 cases
  • State v. Madsen, No. 24654.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • January 21, 2009
    ...for criminal trespass.5 Id. at 1174-75. That court declined to adopt Becerra-Garcia's argument that a bright-line rule should be 760 N.W.2d 381 adopted for determining reasonableness: "that a stop is automatically unreasonable if the officers lacked authority to conduct the seizure." Id. at......
  • Piper v. Weber, No. 24868.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • July 29, 2009
    ...1723 n. 21, 114 L.Ed.2d 173 (1991)). [¶ 7.] Habeas corpus proceedings are reviewed under a narrow standard of review. Steichen v. Weber, 2009 SD 4, ¶ 4, 760 N.W.2d 381, 386 (citing Erickson v. Weber, 2008 SD 30, ¶ 17, 748 N.W.2d 739, Habeas corpus can be used only to review (1) whether the ......
  • McDonough v. Weber, No. 26914.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • January 21, 2015
    ...Id. at 687, 104 S.Ct. at 2064; State v. Thomas, 2011 S.D. 15, ¶ 21, 796 N.W.2d 706, 713 (citing Steichen v. Weber, 2009 S.D. 4, ¶ 24, 760 N.W.2d 381, 392). We employ the same standard. Luna v. Solem, 411 N.W.2d 656, 658 (S.D.1987). [¶ 22.] In order to succeed on a claim of ineffective assis......
  • Piper v. Young, #28153
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • December 11, 2019
    ...time of the alleged error ...." State v. Thomas , 2011 S.D. 15, ¶ 21, 796 N.W.2d 706, 713 (quoting Steichen v. Weber , 2009 S.D. 4, ¶ 25, 760 N.W.2d 381, 393 ). Whether the letter actually violated policy is still unsettled, despite the fact that Sister Crowley acknowledged she had violated......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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